Cleaning Out –
The last two days my mother and I have been working in my dad’s garage. It may be mom’s house but it will always be dad’s garage. We’ve been going through a lot of stuff which needed to be sorted. By the time we finished I had things to throw away, to keep and the garage was clean and organized.
It was a sad and enjoyable time rummaging through dad’s things. He loved tools and one could tell as we tried collecting them in one place. There was paint from projects long ago completed and recent work. Other items hadn’t been opened yet and we wondered; “What project was he thinking about when he bought this?”
The garage was a sacred space for my father. None of us would’ve dared gone in and rearranged it before his passing. My mom said this morning; “I know it needs to be done but I don’t want to do it.” I understood what she meant. There was a sense of invading another’s domain, eery and holy at the same time. There were items we kept not because they were important but because we just aren’t ready to part with them.
I think this best describes our walk down the path this week. We know we must go on without dad but we just aren’t ready to part with him.
Today I had the privilege and duty to be a part of the memorial service for my father. It’s been surreal the last few days. So many errands to run, items to check off on a list, places to go, people to see. There’s been a sense of urgency, a nervous energy, a controlled chaos, riding a wave of sorrow and speed. Because of the hectic pace of the last several days, I stood on the stage behind the pulpit at the service this afternoon with no notes, and no structure to the stories and experiences I wanted to share.
Words, they’ve flooded my mind and soul since Dad passed. Words from family and friends who care and are sorry for our loss. Words that go into an obituary, on a card for flowers, in a service program and used in phone calls, emails, and texts. So many words used to describe the love a family has for one who is, was, the central fixed, point.
Now, standing behind the pulpit at the memorial service today, I had no notes, no words written, no solid ideas, memories swarming in my head but none coming in for a landing. How do you choose the right words to convey the meaning of a life which impacted many people? In the pantheon of phrases, how do you pick out those which will express the purpose of a life lived well?
A deep breath, a small prayer, and … share my heart, open my lips, loosen my tongue and let the words come. No, they will not be adequate. No, they will not be perfect. Yes, there will be second-guessing and memories that are forgotten to be shared.
Words. They are not, and cannot contain the heart’s cry of longing and loneliness or succinctly express the fondness, the love, the good of being apart from a person you love. This is okay. Living, being, existing, is more than words, deeper than condolences, greater than expressions of sympathy and sadness.
Living should be beyond our ability to communicate it easily if it is done well.
Listening is Not Agreeing –
Late last week someone said something about me and that I didn’t agree. At first, the emotion was to respond, defend myself, dig in my heels, push back against the criticism. It wasn’t something overwhelmingly harsh but it did rub me the wrong way.
Instead of responding right away I sat with it for a bit and reflected on it. Oftentimes critiques are met with resistance. We want to defend ourselves. However, if we are too quick to jump our own defense we might miss something constructive. There’s an old wisdom saying; “Both criticism and compliments should be taken with the same weight.” Receiving compliments and praise can be easier but they have a way of pumping up our ego and sense of self. Criticisms, if held on to, can create bitterness, rivalry, and ruptured relationships.
One of the greatest disciplines of contemplative listening is found in the truth; “Listening is not agreeing.” When someone speaks to us a compliment or criticism we do not have to own it, take it inside of us, let it mingle with our minds, emotions, and spirits. We can examine it, turn it over in our minds and, if we have self-awareness, can decide if it is meant for us, to grow, to learn, to let it become a part of us. Perhaps its simply another’s opinion and through insight and stillness, we discover that we can let it go. It’s not for us.
“The mark of a wise mind is the ability to hold a thought in our heads
and not necessarily believe it to be true.” #Aristotle
This morning, driving to a Father/Child reading event I was rounding a curve when out of nowhere came a big white dog, barking and headed straight for the truck. I didn’t have much time to react when at the last second it decided to turn back. My heart went into my stomach and as I looked in the rearview mirror the dog made its way back to the bush it was hiding behind to wait for its next victim. It was frightening to have this huge canine all of a sudden appear on what should have been an easy drive to a county library.
After my heart and stomach settled I thought about the dog and the fright it gave me. The fear had subsided and I wondered where its owner was, why the dog was allowed to play this dangerous game when, in a collision, the vehicle almost always wins?
I don’t like being afraid. Fear is unsettling and I’d prefer to live life without it. However, I admit that life can be a lot like the, almost, run in with the dog today. We navigate the road of life the best we know how hoping to reach our destination. When, out of nowhere, something happens which makes us afraid. It may be a brush with death, a lingering sickness, a mental health issue, a financial crisis, a danger or challenge to friends and family. In these moments we become afraid. Our goal is no longer reaching our destination but getting through each next moment. Everything slows down and our attention becomes solely on the fear.
In one sense it’s helpful our vision is singularly focused. It helps us concentrate on what’s in our way and how to avoid it or fight it. However, if we are not careful the thing which makes us afraid becomes the only thing we see and our vision to all the beauty and wonder of life is obscured. Balancing being fearful and mindful is tricky but is the only way we make sure we don’t spend our lives afraid to live.
Today, I had a meeting at a discreet location in a women’s shelter. There was no sign and the house was off the road down a long driveway. Blink and you would miss the driveway and the house couldn’t be seen from the road. The meeting was one of our county’s Community Action Board which is made up of several organizations who partner together to reach as many families in need and/or in crisis as possible.
The leader of the house was a nice woman who talked softly but her love for the women in the house was obvious. The women who are enrolled there are from all backgrounds, religions, and nationalities. Some have experienced abuse at the hands of others and some abused themselves. Under the roof of this home, however, all were welcomed, loved and given the skills to start life anew with a sense of belonging and purpose.
Written on a huge dry erase board were the rules of the house, encouragement and motivational sayings, practical applications of the lessons being taught to those who stayed in the home. On one board, almost in the middle was the name of the leader and one of the tenants wrote; “She rocks!” I thought this was awesome. Here is a woman who has given her life to helping those in need. It did not go unappreciated.
I hope each of us can find a place where we can offer love, kindness, time, patience and give worth to those whom life has overlooked or discarded.
Not the Same
The grief in her eyes was impossible to miss. She had lost someone near and dear to her. One who was young, full of life, seemingly with many years left and then one day he was gone. We spoke in hushed tones almost afraid our usual tones would make this terrible truth more real. “I don’t think life will ever be the same again. Normal seems so far from here. How do I get back?” I looked into her shocked and sorrowful eyes and said; “You don’t. Life, as you knew it to be, is over. There is no going back. In time, with healing, you will learn to live in a new normal.”
There are moments, events, seasons in life which guarantee we will never be the same again. Tragedies, awakenings, epiphanies that change everything. What we held to, put our faith in, who we loved are lost. Our rhythm and sense of normal is disrupted. We long to go back, make everything; ‘as it was,’ hold on to that which seemed solid, lasting but it sifts through our hands like sand. Our desire to return is admirable but futile.The way back has been closed off to us forever.
Finding a new normal takes patience with ourselves. We must grieve not only the loss but the difficult path of newness. Even in these darkest of times there is a light in the distance, a rhythm faintly beating, a new normal waiting to be discovered.